Congressional candidate Lorie L. Burch hopes to help heal a divided nation
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
Lorie L. Burch says her campaign to replace Sam Johnson as the congressmember from Texas’ 3rd District in 2018 isn’t about her need to fill a powerful elected office. Instead, she hopes that — win or lose — her candidacy helps re-engage voters in the democratic process and reconnect the constituents with the elected officials who work for them.
“So much of what I want to do is to get people back to feeling like they have a voice, to engage them and empower them,” Burch, an attorney specializing in LGBT family law, said this week. “When you look at our elections, we have pathetically low voter turnout in this country, and especially here in Texas. Texas has one of the worst voter turnout [levels]. What is really behind that?”
For Burch, the answer is apathy rooted in a feeling of powerlessness.
“This system is set up to make us feel powerless. But we are not. The power resides in us [as voters and citizens], and that power starts at the ballot box. We have to get people educated. We have to get them engaged, and we have to make them feel like their voice and their vote matter.
“I’d rather see 100 percent turnout and not a single vote for me” than another low-turnout election.
Through her years as an attorney working with LGBT families and her years of civic involvement with the LGBT community, Burch has built a reputation and a recognizable name. But she doesn’t want people to support her candidacy just because of her image.
“I don’t expect support or money or votes just because someone knows me or likes me or identifies with me,” Burch said. “I want to show them what I’m about, show them that this [race] is winnable.
But, she continued, “If you look at the numbers, they are there. And given recent election results, it’s all the more critical that people get on board and support [her and other progressive candidates] with time, money and talent. This can turn. We can make the change.”
Burch hopes to replace 3rd District incumbent U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, who has announced he is not running for re-election. She is campaigning for the Democratic nomination, and while no one else has officially declared themselves a candidate for the Democratic nomination, 2016 Democratic candidate Adam Bell has said he is running again, and District 8 state Sen. Van Taylor, a Republican, is rumored to be eyeing a run for Congress, she said. [Burch clarified on Friday, June 30, that Adam Bell has officially declared his candidacy. The statement that he had not officially declared was based on information found on BallotPedia.org, which as of 11 a.m. Friday, June 30, listed only Burch and Republican Roger Barone as officially declared candidates.]
There are “a couple of fringe folks” who have said they will run to replace the incumbent, including “a new guy,” who has “said he is running for the Democratic nomination” but who has also said he supports all of Donald Trump’s positions, Burch said. [Since this story was initially published, it has been confirmed that the candidate Burch refers to here is Republican Roger Barone.] There is another potential candidate, also named Sam Johnson.
“This has been a real baptism by fire for me, learning how campaigning actually works,” she said. “People can just pop in and out of the race until it becomes official. You’re not an ‘official’ candidate until you’ve raised $5,000. Then you have to start filing reports with the FEC and everything.”
Despite her history as “an advocate trying to make inroads for equal justice and equal opportunity, especially for the LGBT community,” Burch said that those who know her best were probably shocked by her decision to run. “I don’t think they ever thought I’d go this route,” she said.
But, she continued, “I have always felt there was more for me to do. I had been feeling this restlessness, wondering what that more would be. Then the election last fall happened, and I chose to see it as an opportunity. Regardless of which side of the issues you’re on, I think last year’s election showed us that this country is sick and tired of politics as usual. I think there is a continuing groundswell of people ready for representatives that will get back to ‘we, the people.’ It’s something I feel called to do.”
Burch said she attended the Victory Institute candidate training and “talked to tons and tons of people.” But the turning point came when she was introduced to Denise Hamilton, who operates a political strategy firm in Plano.
“She completely connected with me,” Burch said of Hamilton. “She knew the ground game, how to strategize, how to run. She told me, ‘If you do this, I’ve got your back.’ Next thing I knew there was a Facebook page and a website and a launch party.
“All those friends and clients and strangers, even, cheering me on — it’s been very humbling,” Burch said. “But it also makes me really feel I am called to do this.”
Burch and her wife, Kimberly Kantor, first met a couple of years ago through Rainbow Roundup, an organization for LGBT families that Kantor founded and for which Burch served as a legal source. The two were married last month at Graceland, and Burch “officially” became a parent of Kantor’s two daughters, ages 12 and 7.
As impressed as she was with Kantor’s work with Rainbow Roundup, it was finding out that Kantor was an educator who worked with children with special needs that really sealed the deal.
“To find someone predestined to spend their time making a difference and making a better life for people — LGBT families and families with special needs kids — it was perfect,” Burch said. “One of the first gifts I gave her was a necklace that says ‘A Dreamer and A Doer.’ That defines her, and it defines me.”
Burch acknowledges that her campaign could make not just her but her family a target for the especially nasty kind of attacks that have become a common form of politics in the age of Trump. But, she said, they are ready for it and will face it as a unified family.
“Kimberly and the girls — I have these moments of doubts, but they don’t ever have that. They believe in making the world a better place,” Burch said, adding that “even the girls’ other mom [Kantor’s ex] is very excited about this. She thinks this is a great thing for the girls to see.
“I don’t think there’s a way to prepare for” the nasty, hate-driven attacks, Burch said. “We just have to have the awareness that those things could come along. The importance of trying to make a difference and create positive change for all people far outweighs the potential problems. And we’ll just remember what Michelle Obama said: When they go low, we go high.”
Burch said that while she has a platform based on policies and ideas, her main focus is on her vision to “bring Washington, D.C. to my community. I want to have an immediate impact in terms of listening and finding out what are the main concerns in my community, then bridging those gaps.
Preparing for the job means getting into the community and listening to people.
“People are getting more and more disheartened. Our democracy is not working. Our leaders are ineffective and politics are more partisan than even,” she continued. “It’s scary how divided we are in our nation and in our own communities. People don’t respect others’ opinions, or even believe they have a right to a different opinion. Our current leadership encourages that because as long as we stay divided, we can’t take on the things that need to change.
“I see this as an opportunity to stand up, to say that I am going to fight for the change we need. I want to be able to tell my kids, and someday my grandkids, that when I saw something that was wrong, I did something to help get our democracy back on track.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 30, 2017.